Introduction – Watch My Breath
Often those new to mindfulness practice find themselves a bit confused upon receiving the instruction to watch your breath. Frequently I’ve heard people exclaim, “Watch My Breath?” And then rather sheepishly add a follow up, “How?” How indeed.
Is watching your breath an act of concentration, attention, focus or is it something else altogether? The simple answer is that it’s none of those and yet it’s all of those. An example might help. Walking in a field one summer I looked up into the sky to see the most beautiful clouds I’d ever seen and immediately I became part of the scene. There were no words in my mind yet I knew and felt the beauty clearly. I was aware of being in those moments without thought, judgement or any need to capture any of it. Watching your breath is the same thing, you’re aware of it and even focused on it, but it’s not exertion or willpower holding your attention. Does that make any sense? If not, try letting it marinate a while.
Watch My Breath, awareness within a moment, without thinking. As Suzuki Roshi would say “nothing special.”
Mindfulness practice may seem like it’s mostly about the command “Watch My Breath” without falling asleep, but the practice also continues once you get out of your chair or once you standup from your sitting cushion.
The time after watching your breath becomes the time to watch each moment without exertion. You’ll notice space unfolding within each moment, maybe for the first time. The present moment is not only all around you, but it’s where each of us exists in time. Whether we are washing dishes, reading a book, listening to a friend share a story or merely sitting on the back steps watching the grass grow, The present moment unfolds into the next present moment.
“Watch My Breath” (WMB) is the key that unlocks our awareness of the present moment. WMB opens a glorious panorama of each moment as it merges into the next moment into the next moment into the next moment. WMB allows us to see, feel and know the richness of each moment (without thought) and to be inoculated from the constant distractions arising from the noisy world around us.
WMB gives us place, within the present moment. To be.
I created a short story (below) about how Alice searches for the how to best watch her breath. We all search differently, right?
For reasons only known to Alice, she sets out on a journey to find the perfect chair for meditating, a comfortable chair while at the same time a chair to give her lots of support for extended sittings. Alice wants a chair that will keep her from slouching and falling asleep, and so she embarks on her quest at a local bus stop in hope of finding the perfect chair that is “just right”.
Enjoy the story. In a rush? Scroll down the page where you’ll find an infographic with 7 Tips for Sitting in Meditation.
A dilapidated city bus rolls into its destination emitting a squeak as it’s tires scrape against the granite curb and stops. The driver turns the ignition off, and the exhaust puffs with relief. Behind the dusty split windows a few passengers turn to stare blankly out toward an equally dilapidated bus stop and if they care to look further they’d also notice a curiously situated storefront, it’s crooked sign lazily dangling in the soft breeze spelling out, Local Haberdashery.
No one on the bus wears a hat, not even the ancient bus driver. Very Curious.
Alice, our heroine patiently waits on the edge of the same granite curb. She teeters slightly backwards as the bus pulls up but doesn’t flinch from its closeness, nor from its rather pedestrian squeak.
The buses rusted framed doors swing inwards with a whoosh as they open, and Alice steps into the buses dark opening, where she climbs the four steps of the bus. On the landing Alice stops and turns to watch the doors squeak shut, she smiles at the empty bus stop which waits silently for the next scheduled bus to arrive.
The bus driver turns the ignition on and slowly spins the enormous steering wheel to the left while deftly pressing the accelerator, the bus lumbers forward into the traffic stream.
Alice, who’s still standing on the landing next to the driver quickly surveys the scene noting to herself all the empty seats available. And once sure of her bearings she asks the driver, “Would you know where I might purchase a chair, a chair that is just right, so I can sit down and Watch My Breath?” The driver smiles while gazing into the big mirror above Alice’s head that reflects all the passengers on the bus, sitting quietly. “I know three places” he says, “one of which I’m sure will be just right,” he pauses and then poses his own question. “But, are you sure you’re getting onto the right story?” He asks hesitantly. Alice smiles and says, “Oh yes fine sir, I assure you I know just where I am.”
“You can get help from teachers,
but you are going to have to learn a lot by yourself,
sitting alone, in a room.”
The bus rumbles and grumbles as it inches forward toward its many destinations, passing by bookstores, tea-shops and a whole sundry of interesting establishments. Alice moves deeper into the grungy bus, each hand giving her balance as they by slide upon the chrome bar hanging from the ceiling. Going deeper into the bus reminds her of something she may have read in a book, or maybe it was a dream, but she can’t for the life of her remember for sure. She sits on an empty seat moving a little left and than right till it’s just right. Once settled Alice watches the establishments and people outside the bus drift by without as much as a thought bouncing in or out of her head.
After a myriad of stops along it’s route the bus pulls over next to a big box store with huge red letters proclaiming Everything Office. The bus driver turns noisily on his vinyl seat and shouts at Alice, “hey, looking for a chair? This is your stop.” Startled a bit by his gruffness Alice waves and exits from the buses side door. Once on firm ground she quickly turns back toward the bus waving again while softly mouthing “thank you.”
Before entering the store Alice peers through it’s tinted windows, “I wonder if this is the place?” she muse’s, before going inside, “I hope they have a chair that is just right for me.,” she says softly, to no one in particular. The door closes behind her.
Before she can take three steps into the store a rather short and cute young Bear greets Alice. “Welcome,” says the bear. “Oh!” Alice exclaims as she takes one step backwards.”You’re a Bear!” “Indeed I am” the bear replies.
Looking directly into the eyes of the young bear Alice says, “I mean no offense but I didn’t expect to find a bear when I walked in.” “No offense taken,” the bear says, and he continues, “I didn’t expect for you to walk into this story either.” Alice ponders the bear for a moment and reply’s with a wink, “I assure you I am just where I’m supposed to be.” .
The sales-bear proceeds to show Alice the only chair he carries in stock. “I consider this overstuffed chair to be nearly a perfect chair.” the bear says. And he continues his pitch, “It will quickly take you to dreamland, leaving you refreshed and energized ready to accomplish great things” When the bear finishes Alice puts her fingers to her mouth and utters a stifled “oh!”
“The chair is wonderful” says Alice, “but falling asleep will just not do, I believe I need to look elsewhere. “I understand,” says the bear, “I wish you all the best,” and with that the bear ushers Alice through the door and back out into the busy world.
Once outside Alice stops, and for a moment thinks to herself “that was a rather rude exit” but being Alice she turns back toward the store with a big smile and waves.
“I love going to coffee shops
and just sitting and listening.”
Alice walks toward the bus stop and as she gets close she notices the bus is waiting with it’s door open, and it’s engine running. She peers inside the door and the driver says “ready for the next stop?”
Once again in the bus Alice looks around to get her bearings, and she notices 3 rather boisterous pigs sitting all the way in the back of the bus. The 3 pigs notice Alice and they wave and each one blows rather loud party horns.
Alice turns to the bus driver and asks “who are they?” “they’re regulars” the driver says, and then adds “they heard you were in this story and wanted to see for themselves.”
Putting her hands on her hips Alice thinks to herself “Bears, pigs and overstuffed chairs such a curious reality I live in.”
Before Alice can get comfortable the bus abruptly comes to a stop and the doors open. “This is your next stop, I believe” says the driver.
Alice quickly stands, waves goodbye to the pigs and climbs down the buses stairs to the sidewalk. And being Alice, she turns and waves to the driver, mouthing “thank you.”
Alice stares up at yet another big box store and reads to herself the sign. Green Tea Emporium and 2nd Hand Furniture. “My,” she thinks “ what a curious name for a business.”
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Watch My Breath (Continued)
Alice walked across a nearly empty parking lot carefully not stepping on one of the many cracks in the weathered surfaced black top. “Curious” she thought to herself upon realizing she was acting on a long ago learned superstition. “Don’t step on a crack or you’ll break your mothers back” she said aloud. ” I wonder where all these thoughts come from,” she pondered and then deliberately stepped on every crack remaining in her path.
Alice stood at the stores entrance framed in bright flowers with a huge welcome sign hanging askew on the door. She reached up, pulled the door’s handle and let herself into a cavernous space. The first thing she noticed was the overwhelming smell of flowers, it was as if she’s stumbled into a florist shop and not a second hand furniture and tea shop.
“My how sweet and welcome I feel, ” Alice said. “That’s the goal” said the Bear standing next to Alice. Anxiously, Alice stepped back 2 or 3 steps, “why I hadn’t noticed you, standing there” said Alice between deep breaths. “If I may, Are you related to the Bear in the Everything Office?” asked Alice in a timid voice. “I am indeed” answered the Bear while extending a tray full of fresh baked cookies she’d had been holding, adding, “He’s my son.”
Seeing the cookies Alice realized how very hungry she felt, and seemingly reading her thoughts the Bear said, “please take as many as you’d like, you must be very hungry from traipsing around in a new story?” Alice gratefully took 3 cookies from the tray. “Thank you,” she said.
“Sometimes you need to sit lonely
on the floor in a quiet room
in order to hear your own voice and
not let it drown in the noise of others.”
Once she’d eaten her fill of the delicious cookies Alice asked the Bear, “please can you help me find the right chair so I might sit and watch my breath?” “I have what may be the most perfect chair already picked out for you,” replied the Bear.
The Bear walked over to a golf cart and said, “please Alice won’t you join me for a quick ride to the chair department?” “Wow,” thought Alice, “a chair dept, surely I’ll find just what I’m looking for there.” “I’m sure you will,” said the bear as she shifted the cart into gear, and they sped away down the long long aisle into the hugely cavernous space.
Where Am I?
The ride to the chair dept seemed very long to Alice and little by little she allowed her eyes to close. She nodded off, for how long she did not know. But finally the cart stopped with a jerk and Alice woke up. “Where am I,” she thought to herself. “You’re in the chair dept of course,” said the Bear. Alice blinked repeatedly as she looked around the empty space surrounding her, why she couldn’t see any walls or ceiling but she knew she was in a room.
“There’s the chair,” said the Bear. Alice looked and looked and finally she made out what looked like a huge egg maybe 50 yards from where she sat. “It’s an egg,” exclaimed Alice. “Yes indeed, ” said the Bear. “I call it The Cosmic Egg Chair, “” It will help you crack open your awareness while meditating.” Said the Bear. “Crack open my awareness, oh my!, may I sit in it?” proffered Alice, her arms open wide. “Go right ahead,” said the Bear.
Alice walk by herself toward the cosmic egg chair deliberately. Once she reached the chair she walked around it a few times running her fingers over its smooth fiberglass surface, and climbed inside. “It’s much more comfortable than I had envisioned,” she thought to herself. “I’ll close my eyes and try it out, though I do hope nothing cracks open.”
For nearly 20 minutes Alice sat in the cosmic egg watching her breath, but she was not able to sit still. Alice watched as she breathed in and watched as she breathed out, she even watched the little pause at the end of her out breath, but she could not stop fidgeting. Finally Alice opened her eyes and clumsily climbed out of the egg chair all the while carrying a big frown on her face.
The Bear watched Alice follow the path of watch my breath for the whole time and yet not even her good wishes had any effect on Alice. The Bear knew the cosmic egg chair was not the right chair for Alice and her heart sank.
I’m sorry,” said Alice, “But this chair just won’t do, it’s not the right chair for me to sit on and watch my breath, oh what shall I do?” The Bear gave poor Alice a big bear-hug and gently led her to the stores exit. “Try the next store and you may find the chair that is just right,” said the Bear.
Without saying anything Alice walked slowly through the exit door and toward the bus stop, but being Alice she turned back, smiled as she waved and mouthed “Thank You” to the Bear in the Tea and Furniture Store.
The Search Continues
Though a bit slumped over and tired Alice proceed to walk toward the bus stop once more. A few yards from the bus stop Alice stopped, and asked herself, “what am I doing running around to find the perfect chair?” There was no answer either in her head nor from the the small crowd of onlookers who were watching this story with keen interest. Alice sighed and set off on foot to the next store.
Alice noticed as she walked that if she picked up her pace she could lose even the story onlookers and be alone for the first time on this journey. She really did appreciate all the advice and encouragement she’d received so far from the onlookers as well as the bus driver and the bears but she needed space to find her chair by herself.
“If I want to Watch My Breath and sit in meditation I need to stop all this wrestling and grasping with thoughts about what is and what isn’t the right chair, why maybe I don’t even a chair at all” she thought hurriedly. This last bit of thinking caused Alice to stop walking altogether, she took a deep breath. “Maybe any old chair will do,” she said aloud, and this thought spurred her quickly on toward the next store. The onlookers, who now had caught up with Alice noticed she walked with a sprightly spring in her step and everyone mimicked her newly found spring and moved forward.
What Was It You Wanted ?
Alice walked a short while to reach the 3rd store the bus driver had told her about. What she saw as she turned the corner was a huge expanse of cracked concrete with yellowed grasses inhabiting the cracks of a deserted mall parking lot. In the center of the wasteland sat a small vendors cart with a red and yellow striped awning protecting it from the sun. And sitting in a lawn chair next to the brightly colored cart was a huge brown Bear.
Staying in character, Alice found all this very curious and more than a bit surreal. For a moment she teetered upon the granite curbing surrounding the wasteland, her hesitation achingly passed and she continued her journey forward. The loyal onlookers decided to venture no further and setup a small waiting area they named Highway 61 where they could sit and watch the final act.
A few steps before reaching the cart Alice noticed a weathered sign dangling crookedly from the vendors cart, it read Chop Wood, Carry Water, she smiled and spoke out-loud for the first time since leaving the last store, ” it’s missing the After Enlightenment part.” “Are you quite sure of that?” said the Bear in a very deep and booming voice. “Maybe it’s missing “Before Enlightenment.” he continued and quickly before Alice could speak again he added, ” are you enlightened, Alice?”
The questions was so unexpected, Alice could feel her face turn red and Alice couldn’t identify the other feelings. Alice replied boldly “I most certainly am not,” and at that statement everything came back into focus. At that moment she noticed a rather large rusted animatronic likeness of Willy Nelson standing quietly next to the Bear’s chair. The Bear nodded in her direction while raising his arm toward the animtronic man and dropped a coin into a slot in its chest and with rusty squeeks it began to sing a gravely version of Dylan’s 1989 tune, What Was It You Wanted
Written by: Bob Dylan
Tell me again so I’ll know
What’s happening in there
What’s going on in your show
What was it you wanted
Could you say it again
I’ll be back in a minute
You can get it together by then
You can tell me I’m back
We can start it all over
Get it back on the track
You got my attention
Go ahead speak
What was it you wanted
When you were kissing my cheek
When you gave me that kiss
Someone there in the shadows
Someone that I might have missed
Is there something you needed
Something I don’t understand
What was it you wanted
Do I have it in my hand
Slipped out of my mind
Would you remind me again
If you’d be so kind
Has the record been breaking
Did the needle just skip
Is there somebody waiting
was there a slip of lip
I ain’t keepin’ score
Are you the same person
That was here before
Is it something important
What was it you wanted
Tell me again I forgot
What could it be
Did somebody tell you
That you could get it from me
Is it something that comes natural
Is it easy to say
Why do you want it
Who are you anyway
Am I getting it wrong
Is the whole thing going backwards
Are they playing our song
Where were you when it started
Do you want it for free
What was it you wanted
Are you talking to me
Copyright © 1989 by Special Rider Music
***NOTE*** Prior to the advent of Social Media and Smart Phones it was not uncommon for stories to be populated with guests from other stories that just dropped in to see what was going on in a new story. In this story the 3 Pigs were very curious to see what Alice was up to so they came and went a few times to keep track of her adventures. And onlookers or fans also would frequently show up in stories to watch things play out. Occasionally the onlookers would give advice or ask questions of the stories main characters, but for the most part they kept a respectful distance and stayed very quiet, much like the crowds of yesteryear did at golf tournaments. All very different from today’s loud and intrusive social media fans. But, we all know that everything changes. Right?